Obscurity of the Day: The Strange Adventures of Pussy Pumpkin and her Chum Toodles

Thank goodness for cut and paste. If I had to type in the fershlugginer title of today’s obscurity more than once I doubt I’d have the energy left to talk about it.

The Strange Adventures of Pussy Pumpkin and her Chum Toodles was by Grace Drayton, who at the time was working under her married name of Wiederseim. This is Drayton’s second newspaper strip series, unless you count it as a continuation of her first, Naughty Toodles, which ended just a few weeks earlier. The strip ran from August 2 1903 to January 10 1904 in the Hearst newspapers.

Toodles, obviously, continues from the earlier strip, but here the spotlight also falls on her owner/companion Pussy Pumpkin. The companions engaged in fairy tale adventures that displayed Drayton’s subversive genius for pleasing both parents and kids:

Parent (after a cursory look-see): Ah, this is fine reading for my precious little Priscilla. Nothing like those horrid Katzie rascals. Just a sweet story about a little girl and her kitty helping out poor Mr. Alligator.

Priscilla (after a full reading): This is bully! That alligator just tried to eat that sap kid and her alley cat, and now the elephant’s gonna break every bone in his body swingin’ him like Hans Wagner. Me for more of this!

Although this was very early in Drayton’s career, note that Pussy Pumpkin was already a prototypical Campbell’s Soup kid, as would be most every kid she ever drew throughout her career. Drayton would gain lasting fame for her iconic contribution to 20th century advertising shortly after this series ended — either in 1904 or 1906 depending on who you believe.

A tip of the hat to Steven Stwalley for the sample of this strip!

Jim Ivey’s Sunday Comics


Two books by Jim Ivey are available at Lulu.com or direct from the author:

Graphic Shorthand: Jim Ivey teaches the fundamentals of cartooning in his own inimitable style. 128 pages, coil-bound. Lulu $19.95 plus shipping, direct $25 postpaid.

Cartoons I Liked,Jim Ivey’s career retrospective; he picks his own favorite cartoons from a 40-year editorial cartooning career. Lulu $11.95, direct $20 postpaid.

Send your order to:

Jim Ivey
5840 Dahlia Dr. #7
Orlando FL 32807

When ordered direct, either book will include an original Ivey sketch.

Obscurity of the Day: Wrangle Flats


No mere samples for you comics lovers today, here we have the entire run of Wrangle Flats — all two of ‘em.

This is the very first titled series by the great but often-maligned T.E. Powers. It appeared in the New York World (and in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as seen here) on October 14 and 21 1900. Powers was already an old hand at cartooning — his work appeared in the pioneering Chicago Inter-Ocean way back in 1893.

Powers did some beautiful design work on these two pages, as usual he was ahead of his time. The middle section of the top strip, with panels combining into a cross-section of the apartment building, is particularly impressive. One didn’t often see such avant-garde graphic flourishes on the comics pages of the day. The humor is also a cut above the norm, cosmopolitan and satirical when the typical fare was bratty kids, hayseed farmers and mush-mouthed racist stereotypes. Powers wrote for adults — let the knee-biters look elsewhere for their weekly dose of slapstick.

Much thanks to Cole Johnson, scanner of today’s obscurities.

Obscurity of the Day: Oh, Where, Oh, Where, Has That Willie Boy Gone?


Walter Wellman is one of the banes of my research. His output was phenomenal in the 1900s-1910s, but it was mostly little arrays of gag cartoons that were often chopped up into pieces by his client newspapers. Although the complete versions of his features were undeniably series, they’re all but impossible to track.

If that weren’t enough, he also shared his name with a famous reporter/explorer of the day. Every time I stumble upon the name in an old book on journalism my heart leaps to think I’ll learn something about him, but it invariably turns out to be the other Walter Wellman under discussion.

As best I can tell the cartoonist Walter Wellman was based out of Boston, but he jumped around enough that is impossible to tell from which syndicate many of his daily-style series were published. I’m half-convinced that he was an early self-syndicator.

Today, though, we have a Wellman series that poses no mysteries other than the one asked in the title of the feature. Oh, Where, Oh, Where, Has That Willie Boy Gone? ran in the Boston Herald Sunday comic section from May 6 to October 14 1906. It’s basic premise is one shared by a kazillion other features — the pranks of a mischievous boy. Wellman, though, adds an extra wrinkle by having Willie ‘hide’ in the final panel of each strip. Can you find Willie in our two samples today? They are a bit of a challenge, but he is there.

Tip of the hat to Cole Johnson, contributor of today’s samples. Thanks Cole!

Jim Ivey’s Sunday Comics


Two books by Jim Ivey are available at Lulu.com or direct from the author:

Graphic Shorthand: Jim Ivey teaches the fundamentals of cartooning in his own inimitable style. 128 pages, coil-bound. Lulu $19.95 plus shipping, direct $25 postpaid.

Cartoons I Liked,Jim Ivey’s career retrospective; he picks his own favorite cartoons from a 40-year editorial cartooning career. Lulu $11.95, direct $20 postpaid.

Send your order to:

Jim Ivey
5840 Dahlia Dr. #7
Orlando FL 32807

When ordered direct, either book will include an original Ivey sketch.

Herriman Saturday

Sunday, September 29 1907 — The Angels, battered but unbowed after an interminable road trip, finally come home to roost in the final weeks of the Pacific Coast League season. Manager Hen Berry had made a deal with the league to keep his nine on the road for the majority of the season, a gesture that was much appreciated by the other teams but left the home fans feeling abandoned.

The Angels have a lot of injuries, but unlike other teams in the league haven’t availed themselves of the freed up eastern players, many of whom migrate to the west coast after their season winds up.

Obscurity of the Day: The Legend of Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee may have died in 1973, but his fame only grew after that. During the 70s the martial arts movie star became a genuine cult figure and every teenager, it seemed, was beating themselves silly with nunchuks and practicing Lee’s signature poses in front of the mirror.

By 1982 the craze had died down a bit, but that didn’t stop the Los Angeles Times Syndicate from trying to capitalize on the dead star with a comic strip. Actually, though, the idea had been gestating quite awhile. In 1977 the syndicate had approached two living legends, Milton Caniff and Noel Sickles, about doing a Bruce Lee strip. Samples were drawn up but Caniff grew disgusted with what he considered nitpicky suggestions from the syndicate and dropped the project.

What happened with the idea in that long five year period I don’t know, but finally on May 23 1982 The Legend of Bruce Lee began appearing in a vanishingly small number of newspapers. The strip was written by Sharman DiVono, who was also penning the Star Trek strip at the time, and drawn by Fran Matera, veteran cartoonist. Dick Kulpa did some uncredited art assisting.

The small client list might seem odd given the devoted fandom for Bruce Lee. However, we must consider a few factors. First of all, newspaper editors were pretty much convinced that continuity strips were dead, so the strip had a lot of resistance to overcome. Secondly, the market was awash in media tie-in strips at that time — Spider-Man, Hulk, Dallas, Star Trek, Star Wars and others were all jockeying for newspaper space. Bruce Lee may have just seemed like the low man on that totem pole — popular with teens, certainly, but did he have the mass appeal to sell newspapers? Strips featuring much higher-profile media stars were just limping along as it was — why take a chance on a cult figure that many older readers had never heard of?

Newspaper editors looked at all these factors and very, very few decided to roll the dice on The Legend of Bruce Lee. With hardly any clients (and presumably license fees that made the profit point pretty high to begin with) the strip apparently only made it about three months before being canned. As best I can tell the strip ended on September 4 1982 (has anyone seen later?).

EDIT: As you can see from one of the comments below the strip did actually continue on well past my end date. Another reader sent me a link to Comicfans showing original art as late as May 1983, and it seems Matera had quit by then and the strip was taken over by Kulpa. Now if only we could find a US paper running it that late. I really doubt that the strip switched to foreign-only distribution, but I have no evidence otherwise — yet!

Obscurity of the Day: The Orbits


I saw the old listings for The Orbits in E&P well before I finally stumbled upon some samples of the strip. Not having seen it, I assumed that it would be some interesting futuristic ‘Jetson-y’ sort of thing. Turns out not so much. The strip is a rather pedestrian drama-comedy about a typical American family. Why are they called the Orbits? I dunno.

The strip was by Bill Juhre, who was coming off a modestly successful five-year run as the artist on Draftie, a strip about a couple of soldiers. Draftie had tried to adapt to a post-war world but newspaper editors had a lot of wartime strips trying the same gambit and Draftie was one of the features that didn’t make the cut.

The Orbits may well have been intended as a drop-in replacement for Draftie (which, by the way, was named Lem and Oinie in its last few years). Both strips were syndicated by the John F. Dille Company. I don’t have a definite starting date for The Orbits, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it debuted the day after Lem and Oinie ended on May 4 1946. I do know that early on the strip was titled The Orbit Family, and the shortened version of the title followed quite early on.

The Orbits ran daily and Sunday until May 31 1953 in what seems like a very respectable seven-year run. However, you find the strip appearing in very few papers throughout that time, and usually it ran in third- and fourth-string papers in big cities — the guys who had to pick over comic strip crumbs in the days of territory exclusivity contracts.